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Supervision: a ‘complex
and subtle process’
Adrian, Chris, Jerry
What has changed?
Doctorates are now characterized by:
• diversity not uniformity ( an increased number and range of
students with a range of ages, attendance patterns, background,
‘class’, location and origins; plus a range of models and versions of
the doctorate and modes of study)
• globalization ( influences and competition from Europe, USA, South
East Asia, Australia and so on)
• regulation: quality control, auditing and accountability ( at national
and institutional level)
• growing utilitarianism i.e. increased concerns about utility and
purpose for the ‘knowledge economy’, with a demand for the PhD to
inculcate ‘generic skills’ which may increase ‘employability’
• An increasingly different view of what learning, teaching and
supervision are.
{for more, see, for example, Taylor and Beasley, 2005)
Supervisors and their context
From ( take your pick):
trust, professional pride, integrity, responsibility,
laissez-faire, closed doors/ secret garden, oral
agreements…
To :
Accountability, auditing, open-ness, guidelines,
pressure, written recording and reporting,
‘standards’, quality assurance……
{ see O’Neill, 2002}
Have students’ ‘wants’ and
expectations changed?
•
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•
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•
Consistency
Signposting
Guidance
A critical friend
a source of experience
openness and honesty ( from both sides); respect
Directive ( from some) ……. Yet Non-judgmental
Helps to set deadlines ( not just my responsibility)
Open to my perspective….. yet Agenda setting
Leaves space for my initiative
Instills confidence;., is confident him or her self
A motivator
I don’t want any surprises at the end!
What has really changed? Plus ca
change and all that…
•
the traditional academic virtues required of doctoral
study, and in the written and oral examination of them,
have remained unchanged ( I think)
• Students are still required to make a ‘contribution’, to
have a thesis in its most literal sense, and to complete a
substantial body of writing, which is clear and coherent.
• Have the demands of ‘doctorateness’ perhaps evolved
less than the context surrounding them?
• On a more tangible level, if you walked into a
supervision session in 2012 would you observe a huge
difference between the kinds of activities and
interactions going on then as compared with 1988?
Key points for Supervisors to
consider?
• Which ‘phase’ of supervision is most crucial? ( if any) What should
happen in the first 3 meetings? How can we best achieve ‘focus’?
• Supervision at a distance: approaches, technologies, tactics
• What is the literature review? what is it for? What is ‘criticality’?
• What do we mean by ‘theory’ and where does it come in to the
doctorate: professional and PhD?
• To what extent should we help students with their written ( and
spoken) English?
• How should we prepare students for the viva?
• What do supervisors ‘get’ from supervising?
• Is supervision a form of teaching?
see later slides
e.g. The supervisor: Why do it?
What do they get from it?
Enjoyment, to learn, satisfaction, pick up
some new references, new ideas, new
methodologies…
‘I see it as important for me, in keeping my
currency in the field; and I think it’s
important for the University, especially the
one I am at here, where the research
culture has not traditionally been strong.’
Is supervision a form of
teaching?
‘I see it as a developmental role with the
individual, not a transactional role….it’s
more intimate, and it’s a more direct
communication with the individual learner.
It’s much more a developmental
relationship with a peer, or a near peer,
rather than with a student in a more
subordinated role.’
DELICATE BALANCES IN THE SUPERVISION
PROCESS
From the supervisor’s perspective
• Leaving students alone to ‘get on with it’
…….. Pestering, reminding, cajoling
• Setting strict deadlines ……………..
Allowing students to manage their own
time
• Directing, dominating students’
work………………Facilitating…… or
‘leaving them to it’
DELICATE BALANCES....the student’s
perspective
power, authority and advice…..
• Complete deference from student,
subservience……………… student
‘precocious’, over confident, has false
sense of independence
• Student heeds advice slavishly, deferently
………………….. Ignoring advice, blind
independence
• {PS: a litmus test?? …. who sets the
agendas for meetings?}
Balancing Pastoral aspects of the supervision
process
• Over-interested, patronizing and intrusive
………….. Indifferent, dis-interested, uninterested
• Being sociable …………………….being
aloof
• Keeping personal distance
………………………… closeness /
intimacy
• Being over-friendly, intrusive ……………
dis-passionate?
Balances in the Writing Process
• Allowing students’ writing to be
‘theirs’……… supervisor correcting,
editing, re-writing, even adding
• Who is the real author?
How do supervisors see
themselves in 2012?
‘I see myself as a companion, with them on their
doctoral journey. So my job is to be supportive,
to be open, to be there, to be present. I’ve never
set out to be a ‘friend’ but I do try to be someone
they can rely on and trust – and equally to be
honest, as you would expect a friend to be.’
What is your favoured metaphor?
Has it changed?
.. And finally: Supervising as
teaching?
Brown and Atkins (1988, p.115):
‘research supervision is
probably the most complex and
subtle form of teaching in which
we engage’.
References and some ( I hope)
useful reading
• Brown, G and Atkins, M ( 1988) Effective Teaching in Higher
Education, London: Methuen
• Eley, A and Murray, R ( 2009) How to be an effective supervisor,
Open University Press
• Green, H. & Powell, S. (2005) Doctoral Study in Contemporary
Higher Education. Buckingham, SRHE & Open University Press
• Onoura O’Neill( 2002) A Question of Trust: BBC Reith Lectures,
Cambridge University Press.
• Philips, E and Pugh, D (2000) How to get a PhD (3rd edition)
Buckingham: Open University Press
• Taylor, S. and Beasley, N. (2005) A Handbook for Doctoral
Supervisors. RoutledgeFalmer.
• Wellington, J, Bathmaker, A, Hunt, C McCulloch, G and Sikes, P
(2005) Succeeding with your Doctorate, London: Sage
• Wellington, J ( 2010) Making Supervision work for you,
London:Sage
VIRTUAL GRADUATE SCHOOL LINK
• this is the web link for the VGS that you
can give/show to students or use yourself
http://vgs.group.shef.ac.uk/shef-only/
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